New Hershey Centre deal sought by Mississauga

Nick Kozak/For the Toronto Star

The City of Mississauga is seeking proposals for a new multi million dollar five-year contract to manage and operate the Hershey Centre, a publicly owned complex the city calls “a vibrant and financially sound tourist and entertainment destination.”

The city issued a request for interested bidders on the biddingo purchasing website, seeking companies interested in bidding for a new operating contract to replace the current five-year deal that expires in 2013.

The 14-year-old Hershey Centre is the home of the Mississauga OHL hockey team the Steelheads and before that the IceDogs. It has a capacity of about 5,800 for hockey.

The complex also includes three community rinks, a gymnastic centre, soccer fields and has been the venue for lacrosse tournaments, other sports events and bands such as Green Day and The Tragically Hip.

The arena was built in 1998 by construction giant PCL at a cost of $22 million and is located near highways 403 and 401 in eastern Mississauga on Rose Cherry Place, named after the late wife of hockey legend Don Cherry, who founded and used to own the IceDogs.

In its contract request, the city said it is seeking bids for a new five-year operating deal, with a renewal provision for another five yeas deal after that.

“Proponents who have a successful track record in providing venue management and operations services for tourist and entertainment organizations of similar size, scope and complexity to Mississauga’s Hershey Centre will be invited to submit proposals at a later date,” the city said.

The Hershey Centre has been operated by the Pennsylvania-based entertainment and event management company SMG since 1998.  SMG’s current contract expires next year but the company will bid for a new deal.

“We actually started here in June of ’98 before the building opened and our contract’s been renewed a few times,” General Manager Mike Hamilton told YourMississaugaBiz.com.

Despite more than a decade of being at the Hershey Centre, the 45-year-old Mississauga resident said public competition for event space contracts is common in his industry.

“Just good business for the client really,” said Hamilton. “They want to feel like they’re getting the best value and the best people are running their outfit. So it’s not surprising this thing has finally gone out to tender.”

Hamilton admitted SMG has a lot of resources behind its upcoming bid. However, he also said potential bidders should be aware that the Hershey Centre’s mixed-used makeup makes it unlike many other sports centres.

“This is a different animal altogether,” said Hamilton, citing his company’s close relationship with the city’s parks and recreation department.

“It takes a while to figure out how it works. Frankly it’s not something you can pick up overnight. There was certainly a learning curve when we got here.”

Hamilton said the facility has done well, with ticketed and community events booked for 364 days of the year. The centre has also recently benefited due to the NHL lockout. “During the last lockout, the attendance for our OHL team at the time increased by about 20 percent,” he said. “We’d like to think hockey fans are going to take advantage of a great product. Yesterday we had a crowd over 3,600.”

Hamilton also said the building has exceeded budget in almost every year of its existence despite large improvements that added additional community rinks and the sports zone. “The building has been a critical and financial success,” he said. “This year alone we’ll do over 300 events.”

Hamilton estimates the centre employs 25 full-time staff and about 400-500 part-time staff.

The first mandatory site meeting for potential bidders took place yesterday.

The six other interested companies who have obtained bid documents are BBB Architects Toronto Inc., Canlan Ice Sports Corp., Compass Group Canada, Hospitality Holdings Inc., Nustadia Recreation Inc. and UGL Services.

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